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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  Why Supreme Court stayed setting up Centre's Fact Check Unit- Explained
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Why Supreme Court stayed setting up Centre's Fact Check Unit- Explained

Under the IT Rules, if the Fact Check Unit comes across or is informed about any posts that are fake, false, and contain misleading facts about the business of the government, it would flag off the same to social media intermediaries.

PIB, the government’s communication arm, first announced the setting up of the Fact Check Unit on November 29, 2019 Premium
PIB, the government’s communication arm, first announced the setting up of the Fact Check Unit on November 29, 2019

The Supreme Court of India put on hold the Centre notified Fact Check Unit that was constituted under the Press Information Bureau (PIB). The Supreme Court flagged the impact on "free speech and expression" from the fact check unit. The Fact Check Unit was constituted to identify fake news about the Union government.

What is the Fact Check Unit?

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Indian government had notified the Fact Check Unit on March 20 under Information Technology Rules, 2021. The Fact Check Unit was constituted to flag “fake, false or misleading online content related to the government".

Under the IT Rules, if the FCU comes across or is informed about any posts that are fake, false, and contain misleading facts about the business of the government, it would flag off the same to social media intermediaries.

Once such a post is flagged off, the intermediary has the option of either taking down the post or putting a disclaimer on the same. In taking the second option, the intermediary loses its safe harbour/immunity and stands liable for legal action.

Opposition to Fact Check Unit

The constitution of the Fact Check Unit was opposed by several civil society groups, including Editor's Guild of India and stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra.

Kunal Kamra argued that the FCU regime will coerce social media companies to implement self-interested censorship of online content about the Central government. Kunal Kamra's plea claimed that the establishment of Fact Check Unit would muzzle speech against the Central government.

Why Supreme Court stayed PIB's Fact Check Unit?

A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud set aside the March 11 order of the Bombay High Court which had refused to grant an interim stay on setting up the Fact Check Unit.

“We are of the view that notification dated March 20, 2024, after rejection of application of interim relief, needs to be stayed." the SC bench noted.

Senior advocate Darius Khambata, appearing for Kunal Kamra, argued the fact-checking unit would become a tool for the India government to control what information goes out to the voters. 

However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre said the fact-checking would be restricted to government business. "If someone criticises the prime minister, it would not fall under this," he said.

The Supreme Court bench while hearing an appeal filed by stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra and the Editors Guild of India, noted that the Fact Checking Unit would impact “free speech" guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

"The challenge to the validity of 3(1)(b)(5) (of IT Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules 2021) involves serious constitutional question and the impact of the rule on free speech and expression would need to be analysed by the high court," the Supreme Court bench, also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, said.

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Published: 21 Mar 2024, 07:39 PM IST
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